How Do YOU Start Your Seeds?

David Trammel's picture

One of my goals this year is to start all of my plants, both vegetable and flowers via seeds. I've got some early seeds coming from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, mostly lettuces, spinach and other greens, and two types of onions. The onions are smaller bulb types because I want to continue to experiment with containers.

If you haven't seen the tutorial I put up on self watering containers be sure to check it out.

I've had some success with starting with seeds, primarily with the microgreens experiments I ran last year. Though it was pointed out I had my grow lamps too far from my seed flats, which caused them to grow thin and spiny.

I'm going to start my seeds next weekend. That's a bit early but i want to do a series of blog posts soon about starting with seeds and would like to have the pictures of plants across 4-6 weeks already to put with it.

What kind of hints and tricks do you use to get your seeds started?


One trick I remember from very long ago, was putting your seeds into the freezer for a few days. The thought being that seeds in packages sit at room temperature, and a brief bit of cold might trick them into thinking Winter had come, and then gone and get them growing faster once in warm soil.

lathechuck's picture

The most interesting thing that I've discovered on my own while gardening is that some plants are killed by frost, and some are killed only when their frozen leaves are disturbed. Lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, and dandelion are in the second category. A well-ventilated cold frame can keep the snow and sleet from crushing frozen tissues. Since this has kept late crops edible through the winter, I'm going to try setting seedlings out long before the last frost, to see how they do. I sowed spinach and kale seeds by putting the seeds down on potting soil, then covering them with a thin layer of peat/vermiculite "seed starting mix". Even under the grow-lights, it's only about 60F (16C), which makes for slow or no germination, but there's a spot on top of my home furnace which runs about 70F (22C) which is warm enough to encourage germination without baking them dry. Since seeds are cheap and space (indoors) is scarce, I put 4-6 seeds in each pot. I've had good results pulling apart crowded seedlings for separate planting. As of today, both kinds of seeds are showing the first pairs of leaves, about a week after sowing. I plan to have them outdoors (in cold frames) by March 1, and will report back on the results.

By the way, lettuce (etc) which winters over in a cold frame will go to seed soon after the weather warms up, sending up a flower stalk about 3 feet (1m). Saving the seed is easy, leave it for the birds, or pull them out to make room for something else.

Good ventilation is essential! I've killed plants only by over-heating them, not by chilling them, in a cold frame. A cold frame design with a hinged lid, I've found, invites a gust of wind to flip the lid off, or excessive heat on on unexpectedly sunny afternoon. It's better to have permanently open side-vents, as long as they're not large enough to allow cold winds to shake the plants inside.

is the method I have been using for about 8 years now, with mostly good success. I gather it is a very old method, updated for North American growing conditions which tend to be harsher than those of Europe. One plants seeds into mini greenhouses made from translucent milk jugs and similar containers, which are then placed outside. The seedlings actually grow outside, eliminating the need for expensive grow lights. Brassica, onion and most perennials can be planted beginning Dec. 21. The tender solanaceae, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, and cucurbitae can be started by the same method after March 21. Obviously these dates will need to be adjusted for climate and latitude. I think I am a little bit north of the 45th parallel.
I like this method because it is economical and productive. The only large expense is for potting soil, and you don't really have to buy the special organic for $25 a bag if you don't want to. I have had far better germination, including of old seeds, by this method than by any other, and no damping off, although I do moisten the potting soil with a mild chamomile tea just in case. Once the seeds have sprouted, the gardener must be vigilant. One heat wave can wipe out an entire container of insufficiently ventilated seedlings. Milk jugs are a favorite with winter sowers because the top spout provides perfect ventilation.
Depending on weather, time and local conditions, the seedlings can either be pricked out into larger containers or sometimes, directly into the garden with a hot cap. The original website about WSing migrated to Facebook, which I don't use, but I think there are youtube videos on the subject.